December 13, 2012, Los Angeles, California – Robinson helicopter crash lawyers, Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman can report that Robinson Helicopter Company’s R44 fuel tank rebate offer is about to expire.
After many low impact post-crash fires, the company announced that it was offering a $1,000 incentive to R44 owners who purchase and install their bladder fuel tank kit by December 31, 2012, according to a June 15, 2012 letter issued by Kurt Robinson, the company’s president.
Robinson Helicopter Company first issued R44 Service Bulletin SB-78 on December 20, 2010, requiring R44 helicopters with all-aluminum fuel tanks to be retrofitted with bladder-type tanks, using Robinson’s $6800 field kit, as soon as practical but no later than December 31, 2014. The kit is designed to “improve the R44’s fuel system’s resistance to a post-accident fuel leak.”
The company issued a revised R44 Service Bulletin SB-78A on February 21, 2012, moving up the compliance date by a year, to December 31, 2013. On September 28, 2012, the company issued its latest revision of the bulletin, SB-78B, moving up the retrofit date to April 30, 2013.
Currently, all occupants of Robinson helicopters are strongly urged to wear a fire-retardant suit. Specifically, Safety Notice SN-40 warns that “There have been a number of cases where helicopter or light plane occupants have survived an accident only to be severely burned by fire following the accident. To reduce the risk of injury in a post-crash fire, it is strongly recommended that a fire-retardant Nomex flight suit, gloves, and hood or helmet be worn by all occupants.”
Fatal “Low-Impact Post-Crash” Fires Spur Bulletins
The original safety notice was released in 2010 after a significant number of low impact crashes since 1993, resulted in fuel tank fires, including a fatal 2007 R44 in Easton, Washington which killed four people, including our client’s husband.
After experiencing mechanical failure while flying over Easton logging sites, the pilot of the R44 attempted to land and experienced a “low energy impact,” according to investigators; it was concluded that all four people aboard the R44 survived the initial impact, but were burned to death in a post-crash fire so fierce that it burned for several days, destroying 485 acres of forest.
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman represented the family of Si Young Lee, a businessman from South Korea, who was among the four people killed in the R44 crash. The lawsuit, case number 09-2-35591-6 SEA, which was settled out of court earlier this year, argued that a design flaw in the tail section of the chopper initiated the crash sequence. The subsequent and fatal fire was started due to fuel tanks that were not crashworthy, claimed the suit. Furthermore, Baum Hedlund contended that none of the victims would have lost their lives had the fuel tanks been properly designed to protect their integrity in a low-impact crash landing.
“It is encouraging to see that Robinson is finally handling this safety issue with the seriousness it deserves,” said Ronald Goldman, senior shareholder and senior trial attorney for Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman.
“After three years of litigating against them on this precise issue, my law firm and I are gratified to see that Robinson Helicopter Company has issued revisions to its safety bulletin, encouraging R44 aircraft owners to install this safer gas tank as soon as possible,” Goldman said, “Of course, this sense of urgency on their part only came after numerous fatal R44 helicopter crashes occurred as a result of the defective design of their gas tanks.”
Since Robinson issued the original SB-78 bulletin, there have been at least four low-impact R44 helicopter crashes with ensuing fires due to post-crash fuel tank leaks. Three of those crashes were fatal.
- On January 19, 2012, near Centerville Louisiana, an R44 struck trees while flying at low altitude and fell to the ground and caught fire. Two people were killed.
- On February 4, 2012, two celebrated filmmakers were killed in Australia when their Robinson R44 collided with terrain and caught fire.
- On September 18, 2012, an R44 caught fire and consumed the majority of the helicopter after the helicopter slid off a platform trailer. The pilot was not injured.
- On November 25, 2012, a pilot was killed after his R44 hit a canopy upon takeoff and caught fire at the Corona Municipal Airport.
“Had Robinson insisted on, or indeed required, earlier retrofits, it is likely that lives would have been saved,” Goldman said.
Our firm is aware of at least 30 low-impact R44 crashes resulting in post-crash fires since 1993. Fifty-nine people have died and more than a dozen people were injured in these accidents. See updated chart: R44 Low-Impact Crashes Resulting in Post-Crash Fire
Baum Hedlund strongly encourages all R44 owners take advantage of this rebate before December 31 of this year. “The risk of flying your Robinson helicopter with these potentially defective fuel tanks is simply too great,” said Goldman. “I advise all R44 owners take this retrofit very seriously and avoid tragic R44 crashes like the one my client suffered.”
The approximate cost of the retrofit is $6800 and will require roughly 40 man-hours of labor, Robinson states.